According to the AmeriCorps website, the AmeriCorps Vista program began in 1965 and “over 220,000 AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program have joined the fight against poverty by helping local organizations expand their capacity to make change.”
The 2021 AmeriCorps Week commenced March 7th and continues until March 13th. To mark the occasion, we are proud to highlight two of our current Vistas: Dennis Brink, our LawHelpNY AmeriCorps Vista; and Jillian Jin, our Immigration Advocates Network AmeriCorps Vista. We asked them to share their experiences with the Vista program and the work they are doing with Pro Bono Net.
How did you learn about the AmeriCorps Vista program and what made you interested in joining?
Dennis Brink: When I was studying my undergraduate degree at Arcadia University, I had a work study with the Community Service Office on campus. While working with the office, I was exposed to the Americorps and Vista programs, through constant engagement with Cindy Rubino the director of the office, and fellow students and alumni.
Upon graduating from Arcadia University, I became part of a Young Adults in Global Mission program run by the ELCA. I moved to Budapest, Hungary, and began working with a local non profit organization, Phiren Amenca. During my time at Phiren Amenca, I was exposed to the innate injustices which exist within our society, and how access to justice remains unreachable by large portions of the global community. Fueled by my desire to assist in closing the justice gap, I decided to join the Vista program. I felt like becoming a Vista would allow me to channel my passion for social justice into my daily life and future career in the public sector. Selecting the LawHelp NY Vista position, allowed me to work on developing sustainable solutions to gaps within the communities access to justice.
Jillian Jin: In college, I worked under a federal grant that focused on preventing and responding to sexual violence on campus. I made revisions to college policies, provided advocacy and support to students, and expanded resources within the community. Realizing the barriers that survivors faced when obtaining and understanding complicated legal information, I wanted to gain more experience with an organization that focused on access to justice. When discussing these goals with other partners in the nonprofit sphere, they all recommended doing a year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA before I applied to law school. After researching more about the program, it was an easy decision to apply – it seemed like a great opportunity to gain work experience with underserved communities, enhance my understanding of how to combat inequality, improve my personal skills, and more.
Dennis, how long have you been a Vista and what is the nature of the work you are doing with LawHelpNY?
Dennis: I am in my third consecutive year long term, serving as the Vista for LawHelpNY.
My role with LawHelpNY is mostly committed to assisting in the running of our premier LiveHelp program. I assist in the day to day operations of the programming by assisting with volunteer management. My duties include, scheduling volunteers for shifts, aiding in the volunteer onboarding process; assisting with volunteer recruitment, and reviewing all volunteer applications for program admittance.
My role also includes providing innovative solutions and insight to building both the capacity and sustainability of the LiveHelp Program. I assist in the development of new tools we have for volunteer management, like the implementation and creation of our Galaxy management software, as well the potential expansion of volunteers ability to engage users throughout our social media platforms. Furthermore, I also run projects on expanding the scope and reach of our current platform, to expand our service delivery model, expanding the reach of meaningful legal access to the community.
Data analytics is also a major feature and function of my day to day responsibilities. I assist in the collection program numbers for grant reporting metrics, as well as providing numbers for new potential grant opportunities. In addition, I run, and structure monthly livehelp data reports, and work on creating a more fluid and sustainable data system structure for the LawHelpNY program.
Jillian, how long have you been a Vista and what is the nature of the work you are doing with Immigration Advocates Network?
Jillian: I have been a VISTA with Pro Bono Net and Immigration Advocates Network since last June. My role is to connect legal service providers and nonprofit organizations to rural and underserved communities in New York and across the country. During COVID-19, my project has been particularly critical since everything has transitioned into remote services. So far, I have created new, user-informed materials, supported community education pilot projects, and helped expand efforts to offer remote legal information and service delivery. A few examples of this work include:
- creating a how-to-guide for pro bonos and clients who are meeting on Zoom, Google Meets, etc., especially helpful to rural and hard-to-reach communities;
- organizing and recording the Creative Outreach Webinar, attended by 126 legal service providers and nonprofit staff;
- conducted a second national survey to follow up with the first edition of the Remote Legal Support Guide;
- helping with newsletters and social media to engage pro bonos, nonprofits, and members of the community to support PBN’s work to promote access to justice;
- researching and creating a COVID-19 Resource List and more.
What has the Vista Program taught you?
Dennis: Throughout my last three years, the Vista program has taught me so much about life and myself. It has allowed me to become more motivated in committing to a career in public service, as well the internal confidence to take on any obstacle that life throws at me. It taught me that innovative solutions require creative thinking, teamwork, and careful planning and strategy. In addition, it has allowed me to understand the depths and scope of poverty, and the impact that poverty has on our communities and populations. Progress requires individuals to have humility, compassion, and courage to stand up and be proactive in providing solutions to the problems which face our society. Being a Vista, has allowed me to see what is required for progress, and how allying your passions in life to the work you do, allows you to become an agent of change. Without the Vista program, I would have never become who I am today, and I will always be grateful for LawHelp NY and Vista for providing me with the space and work I needed to become an agent of change.
Jillian: Being able to assist with these projects and be a part of such an amazing organization has been a great learning experience. My time here has prepared me for law school, affirmed my dedication to social justice work, and allowed me to connect with others in the public interest world. If you are passionate about making a difference, please apply to the VISTA program – it is an amazing opportunity that you will find incredibly rewarding!
Is there any other information or advice you would offer or give to someone applying to the program?
Dennis: I would tell them to find a position in Vista that speaks to who they are and their passion in public service. Visa positions cover a wide range of fields and interest areas, there is a position for individuals from all walks of life. I would advise them to really look into the wealth of Vista positions and seek out the opportunities they are passionate about, and commit to doing the work required to eradicate poverty. I would also tell them to be open to different types of work and assignments. The Vista program is truly unique, in the sense that it allows individuals to gain a wide range of knowledge and skills, if volunteers commit to the experience. It also allows The Vista experience is what a volunteer chooses to make it, volunteers have many different areas within their assignments that they can explore their own passion and skills.
For the opportunity to carry on this project, you can apply here: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?fromSearch=true&id=101889